More than champions

The date was not as dramatic as a writer would have liked it to be. Nevertheless, for dramatic effect, it was (almost) on the Ides of May.

Having finished fourth under manager Jurgen Klopp and a chance to compete in the Champions League- the Mecca of European footballing glory -as a Liverpool fan thousands of miles from the city of the football club I have loved and supported since I was 14, I was hopeful that glory beckoned us; that next season we will begin a serious mount to challenge the trophy that had eluded us for 29 years and what Manchester City’s owners had been able to crudely claim in a handful of years.

With money pumping in into the English Premier League, the amounts of which had never been witnessed before, the top prize in the English game was no longer holy but it was still the grail to aim for.

On the 12th of May 2019, on a visit to a once-familiar city- New Delhi -at a friend’s home, I wept like a little child when Manchester City slotted in one goal after another to secure 98 points- one more than Liverpool -to lift the trophy once more.

I was, in one hyphenated word, heart-broken.

The club had come so close to claim its first Premier League and domestic top-flight championship after almost 30 years that you could almost smell it, touch it, see it.

But it was not to be.

The 2017-18 season was one that was a footballing master class demonstrated by two teams of world-class players who were perhaps only bested by their own managers.

Having had success in the top European leagues, I will run out of pages singing praises of Pep Guardiola and his managerial acumen. He is, as the English say, a top, top manager.

Claiming not just the league title for two consecutive years in style by breaking points records, the Spaniard is bound to go down in history as one of the best.

Because we are judged against those whom we compete against, a certain German in the form of Jurgen Klopp is not far behind.

Since the time that Klopp took over the managerial reins of the Red part of Merseyside, confidence in him amongst supporters has grown exponentially, far and wide.

After clinching the Champions League trophy last season, the Premier League seemed like a foregone conclusion. And I say this despite of hearing the repeated clichés of “if Liverpool don’t win it this year, they won’t for a long time”.

I heard it in the 2014 title chase when Mr Liverpool, Captain Fantastic, Steven Gerrard himself slipped in the game against Chelsea, effectively handing over the trophy to Manchester City that season.

In fact, I heard the all-too-familiar line again last season when after just one defeat we still did not manage to lift the domestic trophy as City went on to claim another.

Yet, here we are.

As a journalist, I must admit that I’ve repeatedly made and read the clichéd headlines in my head:  A STORY THREE DECADES IN THE MAKING; 30 YEARS A WAIT; etc.

Perhaps some part of me almost wanted things to be this way; that a headline saying a 29-year wait comes to an end doesn’t sound as good as a three decades’ one.

One of the first rules of journalism is to ensure that you never write the headline first because if you do, your story will take the narrative accordingly.

For once, I had to disagree.

This past year in the English Premier League, the script and the headline began writing itself three months in.

When Klopp came in, he said that it was his plan to change Liverpool supporters into believers. Three years into his five years, that belief was only grew from strength to strength, victory after victory.

One could write pages and pages waxing eloquence about the tactical mastermind of the manager or the mad resolve of the players on the pitch wearing that red jersey as was evident in the second leg of the Champions League semi-final against Barcelona.

This is not about that; it is not about stating the obvious; that the Liverpool squad has reached the heights of greatness is for everyone to see. No one can take it away from them and they deserve every bit of the praise that comes their way.

This is not even about singing praises about my personal love affair with the club or finding an excuse to put myself on a pedestal of fandom (that’s already been done here).

In a strange year where a pandemic has made everything around us feel surreal, it is about finding the joys of life in the smallest of things we do. It is about digging deep and finding inspiration when it seems like there is none to be found.

This is about understanding that life is fragile and that we must take the pleasures of life as and when they come in whatever small measure- like Manchester United fans gloating about their points tally after the restart of the league.

With the Community Shield officially marking the start of the new football season, it is a time of reflection of the months lost this year, and the days that remain. Covid has taught us that while we must remain in isolation and socially distant from one another, to fight the good fight we must stand together; that as human beings, You’ll Never Walk Alone.